Archive for April, 2012

A Celtics playoff kiss from a Rose?

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

So it’s been 20 hours since the ACL-tear that broke Twitter, and likely the Bulls chances of a championship.

Let’s for the moment put aside the blame of the lockout (sorry, I’m not on the bandwagon with this one. Sadly, Max and I have been talking about something like this happening to Rose since he came into the league jumping sideways).  What is striking is how quickly everyone has advanced the Celtics ahead eight wins on their NBA Playoff Chutes and Ladders board.

Hey I get it. It’s completely natural to think about a Boston-Miami Eastern Conference Final. Never mind the fact that we’re still hours away from the Celtics’ first playoff game…in their first playoff series…which is not against Chicago.

And since I’m getting all bloggy from a hotel room in Atlanta, I’d remind everyone that the Celtics, will not even have home-court advantage against the Hawks, let alone anyone else.  Of course the Celtics came within a couple of rebounds of winning the championship two years ago, playing their third straight series without home court.  But what that team did, beating the top two seeds in the East on the road, was a pretty rare occurrence.

So using my own brilliant idea, and having our buddy Adam (@StatsAdam…follow him if you’re in to this stuff) do all the hard work, we came up with this. Since the NBA Playoffs went to 16 teams in 1984, only seven teams have won multiple-series without home court advantage.  Only two (The ’99 short-season Knicks and the ’95 Rockets) won three such series, with those Rockets of course winning four and the championship.

Teams since 1983-84 to win multiple series without home-court advantage:

’10 Celtics: 2 series (4th seeded Bos beat #1 Cle & # 2 Orl)
-Had home-court advantage in 1st round, but won multiple series without home-court advantage

‘09 Magic: 2 series (3rd-seeded Orl beat #2 Bos & #1 Cle)
-Had home-court advantage in 1st round, but won multiple series without home-court advantage

‘99 Knicks
: 3 series (8th seeded NYK beat #1 Mia, #4 Atl & #2 Ind)
-Did not have home-court advantage at all

’95 Rockets: 4 series (5th seeded Hou won title)
-Did not have home-court advantage at all

’94 Pacers: 2 series (5th-seeded Ind beat #4 Orl & #1 Atl)
-Did not have home-court advantage at all

‘89 Bulls: 2 series (6th-seeded Chi beat #3 Cle & #2 NYK)
-Did not have home-court advantage at all

‘87 Sonics: 2 series (7th-seeded Sea beat #2 Dal & #6 Hou)
-Did not have home-court advantage at all

Oh, and by the way, I’m all for convenience and saying something that sounds good rolling off the tongue, but for the record, the Celtics do not have the best record in the NBA, or even the East since the all-star break.  That would be the Spurs and Bulls, respectively.  But pulling these numbers, two things jumped out at me…Memphis, and Miami.  Here are the 16 playoff teams since the break….

SAN ANTONIO          26-6
CHICAGO                   23-8
BOSTON                     24-10
MEMPHIS                  22-10
DENVER                    20-11
INDIANA                   21-12
ATLANTA                   20-12
OKC                            20-12
UTAH                          21-13
NEW YORK                19-12
LA LAKERS                21-14
MIAMI                        19-13
LA CLIPPERS             20-15
ORLANDO                 15-16
DALLAS                      15-17
PHILADELPHIA        15-17

Now, why the reality check? It’s not to put a damper on the playoff opener for the Celtics as they begin the last ride of the Big Three.  I point out the monumental, long shot task that lies in front of them because if you’ve watched this team the last two months, and the last five years, you know, quite simply, they’ve got a shot.

Which is all you want this time of year.

And none of this conversation is a knock at the Hawks.  None of it.

Last week during the pseudo-exhibition game the Celtics staged here in Atlanta last Friday, conceding home court by sitting Pierce, Garnett, Rondo, Allen and Pietrus, a Hawks employee came at me somewhat bitterly during halftime, complaining about the makeshift lineup that disappointed the crowd and threatened to make a mockery of the game. He felt the Celtics should have played all their stars.

It seemed he wanted to vent, so I let him. But as he walked away I told him don’t worry…they’ll be here next week.

The Hawks had a very good year, 40 wins, 6th in scoring differential and they did it without their best player.

But be careful what you ask for, you just may get it… on national television.

Video chronicles Rajon Rondo’s tip-off trickery

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Even for something as routine and commonplace as the opening tip of a basketball game, Rajon Rondo finds his way to add his own sense of flair and style to it.

It’s likely something that anyone who closely follows the Celtics has noticed, but someone took it upon themselves to make a video compilation complete with every instance in which Rondo managed to do something interesting with the ball after receiving the tip-off.

Included in the video are highlights such as Rondo getting the ball on a hike from Kevin Garnett multiple times, as well as a few instances in which Rondo makes a soccer play and heads the ball forward after getting it.

Kevin Garnett and Josh Smith: The non-center matchup

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Kevin Garnett will be in the center of attention, no matter who he guards. (AP)

WALTHAM — Kevin Garnett hates being a center. He’s said it since he moved to the position after the All-Star break and he said it again on Thursday night after the Celtics beat the Bucks.

“I hate the five spot,” Garnett said, as if on autopilot. “You put me anywhere on the floor I’m going to play it to the best of my ability. It’s not a preference of mine but it’s something my team needs so I don’t think about it.”

In some ways it’s semantics. Garnett plays the four on occasion when Doc Rivers goes to his bench and he’s guarded both fours and fives since the switch. He’s taking more shots on the offensive end, increasing that number in the second half of the season, but he’s still firing away most from the perimeter with the occasional post-up thrown in for good measure. (Garnett’s passing in the low post remains an underrated strength).

Josh Smith isn’t really a center, either. He played most of his minutes at the four alongside Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, who are both injured. Like Garnett, he took a more active role in his team’s offense this season, upping his shot attempts by three per game and his usage rate up to 28 percent. Smith is a monster scoring inside and in transition and a streaky, at best, jump shooter, prone to ill-advised long jumpers and 3-pointers.

“He’s going to take the jumper and when he makes it, it’s tough,” Doc Rivers said. “When Josh is shooting the ball [well] throughout the series, it’s going to be a hard series. There’s no doubt about that. He’s going to shoot the ball. We’ve got to respect that shot. What makes him unique is he’s a four or a five that can take you off the dribble.”

There are two ways the Celtics could play Smith. They could use Brandon Bass, a rugged power forward with strength and athleticism. Or they could use Garnett, who is their best defender and a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Matchups are going to a be a constant storyline in this series. Ordinarily, a team without a true center is a good thing for the Celtics, but they are wary of the Hawks’ big-small lineup, which features over-sized guards like Joe Johnson and Tracy McGrady, wing shooters like Marvin Williams at forward and Smith at center.

“You’ll see [Garnett] on everybody,” Rivers said. “They move Josh to the five and they go with Marvin at the four and Tracy at the three and Joe at the two. That’s a tough lineup. They do it and they do it against us more than any other team for a reason, obviously. It creates matchups and we’re going to have to deal with that.”

The Celtics will try to counter with their regular lineup and force the Hawks into matchups that are favorable to their strengths. According to Rivers, it worked half the time in their two earlier meetings. (For all intents and purposes, the most recent game was a wash tactically due to so many missing players).

Offensively, the Celtics need Garnett to provide some punch. His minutes will still be carefully monitored, but they’re expecting 15-20 shots per night.

“Kevin’s a big key in every series,” Rivers said. “He has to be aggressive. In the series that we’ve won over the years he’s been very aggressive and a go-to scorer. He has to be that for us in this series.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Garnett will live on the block.

“They’re a great trapping team,” Rivers said. “You’ve got to be careful. If you think you’re just going to post him and win, I think you’d be kidding yourself. If you look at their stats, against post teams they’ve done extremely well. Teams focus on that so much they lose the game. So, we can’t do overdo that. That’s an area that we want to attack through our regular motion. If you get caught trying to do that every time they’ll beat you.”

One of the Celtics’ main concerns is transition defense, and especially 3-pointers on the break. The Hawks had eight players who took more than 100 3-pointers this season and they shot 37 percent, the fifth-best mark in the league. No one defends the 3-point line better than the Celtics and a key will be keeping the floor spaced and getting players back, a tougher task when you’re locked up under the basket.

No matter where he plays and who he guards, Garnett will be key factor and it would be fascinating to watch him return to his roots against a dynamic player like Smith.

Sean Grande’s NBA awards ballot

Friday, April 27th, 2012

LeBron James is an easy choice for MVP. (AP)

I’m not sure when exactly it happened.

Media, communication, society, it all changes pretty fast these days. But at some point, probably somewhere between MySpace and Facebook, the concept of anonymity started to become a problem. It was manageable then, the occasional encoded e-mail address and what not. But with Twitter, it’s now an epidemic.

And of course the problem isn’t anonymity, it’s a wonderful thing if you’re fortunate enough to have it. The problem, is that it comes with a certain amount of entitlement. That lack of awareness, fake-tough bravery that usually comes after too much to drink, or for those of us new parents, not nearly enough sleep.

People say the nastiest, vicious, twisted things when armed with a keyboard and the invisibility cloak of the Internet. They are, more often than not, the same people that would smile, shake your hand or ask for an autograph if they saw you in person. It’s a disturbing, ugly trend. I mean, sure it is. But it’s an absurdly small price to pay for the freedom of speech we’re blessed to have and the extraordinary age of technology in which we exist.

There are 100 million people on Twitter. If a few dozen backwards teenagers, bred in ignorance, tweet something offensive after Joel Ward scores the overtime goal for the Capitals, it’s not a story unless we make it one.

Morons have existed from the beginning of time. So has classlessness, ignorance and hate. And they always will. Progress isn’t eliminating them; that’s a noble idea but it can’t be done. Progress is recognizing it, isolating it and going on with life in the real world while the increasing minority of people fueled by race and hate grows extinct.

It’s how we got rid of disco, Members Only jackets and lava lamps. Just give it time.

Anyway, the point is that as big a fan of anonymity as I am … I don’t think postseason award ballots should be anonymous. Never have. I’ve been voting for NBA MVP and the other awards for 14 years now. It’s a privilege, not a right. And I think with that privilege comes a certain amount of accountability. I’ve always made my ballot public and I think everyone should. If you’re “expert” enough to get a vote, you should be able to defend your choices, that’s all.

That said, I’ll be submitting my ballots to the league shortly, and here’s what they’ll look like.

ALL-NBA

I always begin here. By picking the top 15 guys in the league, it starts my process in picking the five for my MVP ballot.

And the strangest thing about the all-NBA team this year? In fact, the strangest thing maybe about this truly strange NBA season? The center spot. For years now, it’s actually been a struggle to find three centers worthy of All-Star consideration. You’d convince yourself that Tim Duncan was playing center even if he wasn’t, or that Nene was really underrated. It was a struggle. This year, if you call Duncan a center, there were legitimately seven guys competing for the third spot.

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Avery Bradley is ready for the playoffs

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Avery Bradley

WALTHAM — When Chris Wilcox saw Avery Bradley on Thursday he gave him a big smile. “I told you your time would come,” Wilcox said.

Bradley’s time is now. His play in the second half of the season sparked a resurgence that helped the Celtics compile a 24-10 record after the All-Star break. With Bradley in the starting lineup, the Celtics were more than 18 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions, and they went from a good defensive team to downright scary.

It’s been quite a rise for the 21-year-old , who played only 162 minutes as a rookie and didn’t see the court at all in the postseason. “Yeah, it was frustrating but like I said I just took it as a learning experience,” Bradley said. “This year I’m going to be ready.”

Bradley quickly earned his teammates’ confidence. His ability to cut backdoor opened up new possibilities for their offense and his rapidly-improving jump shot enabled him to average more than 15 points per game in April. Bradley knocked down 48 percent of his attempts from 16-23 feet and he shot over 50 percent behind the arc in April.

“Avery’s proved more than enough,” Kevin Garnett said. “And I think he’s definitely more than ready.”

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Irish Coffee: Banged-up Celtics ‘hoping everybody is’

Friday, April 27th, 2012

He might not be a real doctor, but he must feel like one after all the injuries he’s seen in the past four months.

“We’ve got to be careful with them, even in the playoffs,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “It just doesn’t take much, it seems like, right now, for a guy to not be able to play the next night. So we have to be very careful.”

Take Paul Pierce as Exhibit A. The Celtics captain began this lockout-shortened regular season with a bone bruise in his right heel and ended it with a sprained big left toe. The original plan was to rest Pierce’s ailing feet for the final two games, but his desire to stay in rhythm won out, so Rivers played him 18 minutes on Tuesday and just 2:18 on Thursday before March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month limped back to the locker room.

“He hurt it,” said Rivers, referencing the toe that led the C’s to list Pierce as likely unable to return. “That’s why he’s been sitting. And then he wanted to play. We’re not sure if it was the tape, or whatever, because when he wanted to come back, he just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose.’ So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in, but he really wanted to play a couple minutes just to get up and down the floor.”

The Celtics dodged a bullet, as Pierce returned for the final 4:24 of the first half to score seven quick points and ease fans’ fears. The same can’t be said for Ray Allen, who missed his ninth straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. On Thursday, Rivers dubbed him probable for Game 1 against the Hawks, but the Celtics announced via Twitter on Friday, “Allen will not practice today and his status for Game 1 on Sunday is still unknown.”

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Kevin Garnett: ‘Together, Celtics play hard as sh*t’

Friday, April 27th, 2012

It wasn’t pretty. Not the NBA lockout. Not the 0-3 start. Not the losses of Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to heart surgeries. Not the two five-game losing streaks. Not the way Paul Pierce started the season, Ray Allen ended it or everything in between that involved Jermaine O’Neal. But it’s over.

The 2011-12 Celtics regular season is in the books, resulting in another Atlantic Division title to toss into the supply closet along with the franchise’s 21 others that mean little compared to the 17 NBA championship banners hanging from the rafters. All in four months work for Kevin Garnett.

“We’re a very, very motivated group,” said Garnett. “Individually, we have a lot of pride. Together, we play hard as sh*t. Like I said, we’re a very prideful team. Like I always said, man, when you come in here and put that jersey on, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that, and we don’t take that lightly in here.”

The Celtics finished 39-27, capturing the fourth seed as the division winner, but finishing a game behind the Hawks (40-26), who will host Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday at 7 p.m. on TNT (full schedule here), presumably without injured centers Al Horford and Garnett’s personal favorite Zaza Pachulia.

“This Atlanta team is a very exciting team — athletic, a better team since we’ve seen them, a more mature team,” said KG. “Smooth, Josh Smith, has played to me some of his best basketball. Joe Johnson is classic Joe Johnson. And they’re coming together as a team. … They’re feeling good about themselves, and that’s a thing we have to reckon with. And we’re going to prepare for them starting tomorrow.”

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